Beyond the Classroom with Tom Yoder Neufeld
Prof. Tom Yoder Neufeld has been engaged in the ongoing academic conversation that is New Testament scholarship for the last 30 years. He has listened and contributed to its development; he has studied and taught, as well as researched and published many papers.
Currently preparing to retire from his role as a professor of religious studies and theological studies at the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel University College, Neufeld is grateful for the community he has been a part of in his time at the university.
“In a lot of peoples’ minds, religious commitment and academic freedom are enemies. I’ve never experienced that here.”
Having grown up in Europe, Neufeld moved to Canada to begin post-secondary studies. After earning a BA in history from the University of Manitoba, he completed his master of divinity at Harvard University.
He then worked in prison and hospital chaplaincy in Winnipeg before moving to Thompson, Manitoba to pastor a small Mennonite church. He later returned to academia.
It was his congregation in Thompson that encouraged him to go into teaching.
“They didn’t disinvite me [to be their pastor] — I never got a sense of that, but they did strongly encourage me to go back to school and consider a career in teaching,” Neufeld said.
He returned to Harvard University to pursue doctoral studies in New Testament scholarship. “I’ve never questioned that that was the right thing to do,” he said.
When he finished his residency, he received an invitation to apply for a full-time position at Conrad Grebel University College. He was hired in 1983 and completed his dissertation, which focused on the theme of the divine warrior in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, while working at the university.
Neufeld has published several texts throughout his career. Included in his written works are a commentary on the book of Ephesians, a textbook titled “Recovering Jesus: the Witness of the New Testament,” and most recently “Killing Emnity: Violence and the New Testament,” which was published in 2011.“That book was very difficult to write because people have strong feelings on the subject,” he said, noting that people’s views of religion are quite often polarized.
Neufeld aims to be transparent in his work as an academic so that conversations remain open and engaging.
“If I can at least let people know what I care about, I can give them permission to be honest about what they care about,” he said.
He sees the importance of different perspectives in the classroom, encouraging large group discussion and reflection in lectures.
“I love when there is diversity in class. I think I’ve done a good job when that diversity is expressed.”
Neufeld names Prof. Dieter Georgi, whom he had as a Masters student, as one of his primary teaching inspirations.
“He had more ideas than anyone could possibly pursue,” he said. “He had a way of making scholarship into a sort of adventure of discovery.”
Neufeld has worked to make his own classrooms places of “interactive exploration and learning.” The University of Waterloo honoured his commitment to academic excellence in 2002, when he was presented with the Distinguished Teaching Award.
From Harvard University to Waterloo, to Israel and Palestine, his journey has taken him to places foreign and familiar. Now, he is moving from professorship into a new chapter of life, where he will continue to travel the way he has come to know well. All while continuing to learn from and share with those he encounters.